When most people imagine CEOs of large banks and other institutions, they often picture them living lives of privilege, giving them a head start to reaching the top. However, not every story is the same. Whether you see them as rags to riches stories or the tales of those who started from nothing, some of today’s CEOs did make their way to the top regardless of a disadvantaged start.
Whether it was spending time living in housing projects, being raised by working class parents, or work jobs to help support their families as children, with enough determination, it is possible to make it to the top of a prestigious bank. To help show you that it can, in fact, be done, here are some snippets of just a few of these rags to riches stories.
Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.
Today, Lloyd Blankfein is the CEO of Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., the investment banking and securities firm, but he started as a regular kid living in Brooklyn. Blankfein’s parents were a U.S. Postal Service clerk and a receptionist, which demonstrates his likely modest upbringing. In fact, at one point during his childhood, Blankfein worked as a vendor at Yankee Stadium to help bring in some cash of his own.
However, Blankfein worked to graduate as the valedictorian of his high school and earned a scholarship to attend Harvard College. Ultimately, he received a degree from Harvard Law School which helped him begin his career towards the C-suites of one of the world’s largest banking firms.
Ken Lewis, Former CEO of Bank of America
The son of an Army man, Ken Lewis started life humbly. After growing up, he earned a baccalaureate degree in finance and started his banking career as a credit analyst in 1969. In 2001, Lewis became the CEO of Bank of America while also being named Banker of the Year and Top Chief Executive Officer. In 2007, he was considered by Time Magazine to be one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world.
Ultimately, he left the position during the controversy associated with the Bank of America acquisitions of Merrill Lynch and Countrywide in 2008-2009.
Ralph Norris, Former CEO Commonwealth Bank of Australia
After his parent’s divorce, Ralph Norris spent much of his teenage years in a housing project (commission) in Auckland, New Zealand. He went on to further his education at Lynfield College. Norris began his banking career with Auckland Savings Bank with ultimately became a subsidiary of the larger Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
Over time, he worked his way up through the ranks and eventually reached the position of Managing Director and CEO of Commonwealth Bank in 2005, and was later named Australia’s highest paid executive in 2010 with wages reaching $16.2 million per year. Norris ultimately retired from the position in November 2011.
Other Famed CEOs with Rags to Riches Stories
The banking industry isn’t the only one to see notable stories of perseverance such as those above. For example, media mogul Oprah Winfrey grew up in poverty as the child of a teenage mother. John Paul Dejoria, CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems, began working to help support his family at age 9 and ultimately spent time in foster care. The CEO of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, grew up in a Brooklyn, New York housing project.
While these stories of coming up from nothing aren’t commonplace, they certainly aren’t unheard of. If anything, it proves that, with the right amount of effort and luck, anyone can make it from the bottom to the top.